A 29-year-old UCLA Ph.d candidate who had a government security clearance in his job at a top defense contractor has been identified as a member of a violent white supremacist group that took part in attacks on counter-protesters in Berkeley and Charlottesville.
Michael Miselis was named in an article by ProPublica and PBS’ Frontline. The two news organizations have partnered to investigate hate groups across the United States. Miselis is a member of the Rise Above Movement, a small, but violent, group of about 15 to 20 people in southern California who had expressed hatred for Muslims, Jews and immigrants, according to ProPublica and Frontline. After the report was published, Miselis lost his job at Northrop Grumann, according to ProPublica. The company said in a statement that Miselis, “is no longer an employee of Northrop Grumman.”
Miselis was seen in photos and videos with the group in California and in Virginia and Frontline and ProPublica confirmed his identity through those images, along with social media posts and interviews with members of California law enforcement. Miselis was confronted by reporters outside of his home in Lawndale, a small city outside of Los Angeles, and he said only, “I think you got the wrong guy,” before driving off. He could not be reached for comment by Heavy.
According to ProPublica, Miselis wrote on an internal messenger at Northrop Grumann the day after the report was published, “Believe none of what you hear and half of what you see.”
On October 2, federal prosecutors in Virginia announced that Miselis and three other members of the California-based Rise Above Movement had been arrested on conspiracy charges related to the Charlottesville rally, The Huffington Post reports. Cole Evan White, Benjamin Drake Daley and Thomas Walter Gillen were also charged. You can read the criminal complaing against Miselis and the other Rise Above Movement members below:
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Miselis Wore a Red MAGA Hat & Taped His Hands Like a Boxer at the Charlottesville Rally, While Wearing Goggles to Protect Himself From Pepper Spray in Berkeley
Michael Miselis was caught on camera during multiple skirmishes at the Charlottesville “Unite the Right” rally in August 2017 and the violent clash between protesters and counter-protesters in Berkeley at a pro-Trump rally in the spring of 2017. The photos show Miselis pushing one counter-protester to the ground and throwing a soda can at a group. Another photo shows him flexing his muscles.
“At the Trump rally he wore protective goggles to ward off pepper spray or tear gas, taped his hands up like a boxer, and wore a gray active-wear uniform, as did several other RAM members that day. In video footage reviewed by ProPublica and Frontline, Miselis can be seen fighting alongside other RAM members,” the news organizations report.
In Charlottesville, Miselis hands were again taped and he was wearing a red “Make America Great Again” hat as he stood alongside members of the Rise Above Movement.
According to ProPublica, the Rise Above Movement surfaced publicly last spring and established itself quickly as one of the most violent groups in the white supremacist scene. Its members train in mixed martial arts and have competed in events in Ukraine and elsewhere, according to its social media posts, which include videos of the group’s members training and fighting. According to ProPublica, RAM has been involved in several melees with counter-protesters.
The group has several members with criminal records, including its founder, Robert Rundo, a Queens, New York, native who was sentenced to prison in 2009 for stabbing a rival gang member during a street fight. Other members joined RAM from Hammerskin Nation, a Nazi skinhead group, ProPublica reports.
The Rise Above Movement is under investigation by the FBI, according to ProPublica and Frontline.
“While the FBI neither confirms nor denies the existence of an investigation, our agents investigate activity which may constitute a federal crime or pose a threat to national security. Our focus is not on membership in particular groups but on criminal activity,” the agency said in a statement to ProPublica. “The FBI cannot initiate an investigation based solely on an individual’s race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, or the exercise of their First Amendment rights, and we remain committed to protecting those rights for all Americans.”
2. A Video From the Charlottesville Rally Shows Him Punching a Counter-Protester
A video posted online after the ProPublica and Charlottesville report was published shows Michael Miselis attacking a counter-protester during the Charlottesville rally. In the video, which you can watch above, Miselis can be seen punching the counter-protester multiple times.
Miselis has not been charged with any crimes in connection to the Charlottesville and Berkeley rallies ProPublica and Frontline determined he had taken part in. But it is not clear if any investigations into his conduct have been opened since his identity was confirmed. Several people have been charged with crimes as a result of both melees after videos and photos revealed their identities.
The Southern Poverty Law Center’s Keegan Hankes told Frontline, “it’s ridiculous,” that no action has been taken against Miselis by UCLA and Northrop Grumann. Hankes, who closely follows RAM, told the news organizations, “They’re openly motivated by racism.”
3. Miselis Is Pursuing a Ph.D in Aerospace Engineering at UCLA, but the School Says He Is on Leave From the Doctoral Program
Michael Miselis is pursuing a Ph.D. in aerospace engineering at UCLA, according to the university’s website. He has been part of the Hypersonics and Computational Aerodynamics Group. The group’s website was taken down Thursday after the ProPublica and Frontline report. In September 2017, the group posted on the page, “Congratulations to Mike Miselis on advancing to candidacy.”
UCLA said in a statement to Frontline that Miselis is “technically on leave from the doctoral program.”
4. He Had a Security Clearance to Work in a Computer Modeling & Simulation Group at Northrop Grumannn, Current & Former Employees Told ProPublic & Frontline
Miselis had a security clearance as part of his work as a systems engineer for Northrop Grumann, former and current employers of the defense contractor told ProPublica. He worked in a computer modeling and simulation group that is part of Northrop’s aerospace division. According to ProPublica:
Such security clearances are typically issued in a two-step process. The federal Office of Personnel Management conducts an investigation into the individual. The agency’s findings are then forwarded to a special unit within the Department of Defense, which makes the final determination on whether the person should receive a clearance, a status that often allows the person access to classified or otherwise sensitive information concerning national security.
Public affairs officers at the Defense Department declined to comment about Miselis and his security clearance. The federal personnel management office referred questions regarding Miselis to Northrop Grumman.
After the ProPublica and Frontline report was published Thursday, Northrop Grumann responded on Twitter, writing, “Northrop Grumman was recently made aware of alleged employee actions that are counter to our values. Northrop Grumman is absolutely committed to the highest levels of ethics & integrity in all that we do, & ensuring that our workplace reflects our values of diversity & inclusion.”
The defense contractor added, “We do not tolerate hatred or illegal conduct and we condemn racist activities in any shape or form. We are taking immediate action to look into the very serious issues raised by these reports.”
ProPublica reports that internal emails and interviews with current and former employees reveal that Northrop knew of his actions in Charlottesville and his involvement in the Rise Above Movement. The company was informed of Miselis’ contact with the ProPublica and Frontline reporters by him as is protocol for employees with higher-level security clearance, the news organizations report.
5. He Is a California Native & Graduated From UCLA in 2011 With a Mechanical Engineering Degree
Mike Miselis is originally from Stockton, California, according to public records. He graduated from UCLA in 2011 with a degree in mechanical engineering, according to a now-deleted page on the university’s website.
Miselis’ family members in Stockton did not immediately return requests for comment from Heavy.
A.C. Thompson, the ProPublica staff writer who worked with Frontline on the “Documenting Hate” project, told Poynter, “We have been trying to figure out who this person was since last fall, but we didn’t know his name.” He said after they tracked him down, they confronted him at his home. He denied any involvement, including being in Charlottesville, Thompson told Poynter. “He looked utterly and completely unsurprised to see us. Unshocked. … I think there’s a stereotype that these people are all idiots. This totally underestimates this movement. These people are hateful but savvy.”
Thompson added, “This is how we want to do reporting on the white power movement. We want to cast the spotlight on the people who want to stay in the shadows, who are actually engaged in criminal activity.”